Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Power of Simple Goodness

I was just a kid. Well, a college student all over 20 years of age, and on the trip of a lifetime. I went to a small church-related college in West Virginia, Alderson-Broaddus College, and that school for years had a European Term option. Just after Thanksgiving, 1977, I boarded an airplane for the first time in my life and flew to New York and then on to Europe via Iceland. I learned all about jet lag and discovered for the first time what it was like to be a foreigner.

We were based in Austria, studying German and 20th century European history Monday through Thursday morning. That meant that virtually everyone took off Thursday afternoon to grab a train to points all over (everyone had a Eurail Pass).

In January 1978 the entire group traveled down to Italy: down through the snowy Brenner Pass into the Po Valley and on to Florence. After several days there, we went on to Rome.

One thing on our schedule was having an “audience” before the Pope, which at the time was the ailing Pope Paul the VI (he would die in August of that year). Now at the risk of offending Catholic readers of Temple City Life, you have to understand that I was a 20-year-old Baptist kid from Ohio, and that Pope Paul wasn’t anything approaching the cultural figure that John Paul II would soon become. My impression was that of an old, old man with a simple message.

Well, he may have been old, but I was dead wrong about his message. I recall the passage he cited (in many languages). It’s from Romans 12:21:

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

It seems so simple, and at the time I remembered being distinctly unimpressed. I was wrong.

Let me explain it this way: what I’ve learned over the years is that there is virtually nothing as powerful as the doing of pure good.

Last November, I had a taste of this when our church delivered food baskets—really full Thanksgiving Dinners with a just out of the oven turkey—to about 40 families right before, actually the night before, Thanksgiving. I drew two of the more distant deliveries up in Pasadena and had a great time. It was just so joyful to do something entirely good, no strings attached. We also decided to deliver them in baskets people can use: new laundry baskets, which people were just as delighted to receive. One thing I’ve learned is that when money is tight, you don’t spend money on things like a laundry basket.

We did this with no desire to get anything in return. But here’s the really amazing thing: we had several of those families show up for worship the following Sunday. And they’ve stayed. Frankly, the experience of truly selfless deeds of good done on their behalf was so unique and delightful that they wanted to check these people out. I even baptized a couple of people from that ministry on the morning of Christmas Eve!

I was wrong about that aged Pope in Rome. The message of Romans 12:21 is timeless. One theologian reminds us that evil itself is a shadow, a kind of black hole of nothingness. That is, it’s the denial of good. But good is a powerful positive source. It was the goodness of God that sent Jesus to the Cross for you and me, and His goodness expressed through his people that has sent missionaries, built schools and hospitals and fed the needy down the centuries. Goodness is powerful. God’s goodness is the best. Never ever underestimate what simple goodness can do.

No comments: